Exploring Epstein Barr Virus Connection in Multiple Sclerosis Research: J. William Lindsey, MD


The professor in the department of neurology with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston talked about findings from a recent study that investigated T cell specificity in the spinal fluid of patients with multiple sclerosis. [WATCH TIME: 10 minutes]

WATCH TIME: 10 minutes

“Our study highlights the intriguing connection between Epstein Barr Virus and multiple sclerosis, showcasing a significant prevalence of T cells in the spinal fluid specific for Epstein Barr Virus-infected cells."

Over several decades, research has shown that Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection, a herpesvirus that infects more than 90% of the population globally, is associated with multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic disease of the central nervous system. A notable 2023 longitudinal study showed that MS risk is minimal in patients who were not infected with EBV and that it increased over 30-fold following EBV infection.1 In past few years, many research studies have provided more evidence and direction on the underlying mechanisms of this connection, which may help to develop more targeted treatments for MS.

A new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences demonstrated that T-cells specific for EBV-infected cells are present in high numbers in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of patients with MS at the earliest stages of the disease.2 Senior author J. William Lindsey, MD, professor in the department of neurology with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, and colleagues, collected blood and CSF samples from 8 patients in the process of MS diagnosis for the analysis. They stimulated cells from the patients’ blood with multiple stimuli and then used RNA sequencing for T-cell receptors to determine which of the stimuli the CSF T-cells were responding to.

Lindsey, who also serves as the Opal C. Rankin professor in neurology at the medical school, recently sat down in an interview with NeurologyLive® to discuss how the abundance of T cells specific for EBV-infected cells in the spinal fluid of patients with MS compare with T cells targeting other infections. He shared his insights on what the study provides into the potential role of T cells in the autoimmune response of MS, specifically those targeting EBV. In addition, Lindsey spoke about the next steps in the research, particularly regarding the investigation of B lymphocytes and the cellular activities of T cells in the spinal fluid of patients with MS.

1. Bjornevik K, Münz C, Cohen JI, Ascherio A. Epstein-Barr virus as a leading cause of multiple sclerosis: mechanisms and implications. Nat Rev Neurol. 2023;19(3):160-171. doi:10.1038/s41582-023-00775-5
2. UTHealth Houston study: EBV-specific T-cells play key role in development of multiple sclerosis. University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. News Release. Published January 8, 2024. Accessed January 8, 2024. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/1030187
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